The Broken West

I Can't Go On, I'll Go On

(Merge; 2007)

By David Greenwald | 21 October 2007

Even when it was called the Brokedown a mere EP ago, the Broken West never sounded like a band about to collapse. On I Can't Go On, I'll Go On, its debut album and first release on Merge, it's that title's second half that the group lives by. The Dutchman's Gold EP (2005) showed off the band's ramshackle side, matching fuzzy rockers such as "Down In The Valley" with pedal steel ballads ("Sparks"), and it never sounded as well put together as this. The Broken West has come into its own, unveiling a rough-edged, expertly crafted power-pop sound that pays tribute to Big Star and the Replacements without sacrificing its rowdy individuality.

"Down in the Valley" is the only holdover from the EP, and it fits well here. It's an exuberant, guitar-driven track that evokes the band's Western imagery: "Sundown, blood horizon / Now it feels all right / No one feels the darkness down in the valley tonight." Opener "On the Bubble" introduces piano to the band's mix, an instrument that plays pacesetter through much of the album. The song -- emblematic of the album itself -- is sharp and tight, compacted into brief sections that transition flawlessly. The band's songs are less convoluted than those of, say, the New Pornographers; still, what's surprising is just how good the band has gotten at crafting such involved melodic structures. The potential was evident on the EP, but to hear it so fully realized on songs such as "So It Goes," where the vocal melody leads right down into the guitar line, or "Hale Sunrise," which builds slowly to parallel the hesitance of the refrain, is immensely satisfying.

Singer/guitarist Ross Flournoy, writer or co-writer of the majority of the group's songs, treats his place in the driver's seat with due responsibility. He wavers between a masculine croon and a more raw-throated approach, depending on the song. On "Baby On My Arm," he's all tenderness and heart; "Down in the Valley" finds him shouting the chorus with beer on his breath. Whether they're doing rockers or softer stuff, the band nails it on every song. While references are easy to come by -- "Baby On My Arm" wouldn't be out of place on a recent Ryan Adams record or an older Paul Westerberg disc, and "You Can Build an Island" is a dead ringer for the Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing" -- the Broken West has established a style for itself that always feels worn-in and natural.

The band has become a creature of raucous song, capable of digging out pop hooks like handfuls of pennies from a fountain. The only gripe one might have with the album is the thickness of its production: on headphones, the energetic group sounds a little cramped. But maybe that's just because it's hard not to sing along. This is an album made for car trips by a band best suited for noisy bars; you're going to want to play it loud.